Saving lives with convalescent plasma

Published July 11, 2020, 11:03 PM

by Senator Sonny Angara


Plasma is the liquid portion of our blood, comprising up to 55 percent. It is mostly water,  containing vital substances like hormones and nutrients.  It also carries antibodies, a type of protein synthesized by a person’s immune system to help the body fight off foreign substances like viruses.

People who have recovered from COVID-19 are known to have plasma that carries the antibodies that can fight and protect the body from the virus. Such “convalescent plasma” can be transfused from a COVID-19 survivor to one who is critically ill, with the objective of boosting the latter’s defensive response to the virus.

Given that we are still developing and testing many new drugs and treatments amid the pandemic, the idea of transfusing convalescent plasma as a possible form of therapy isn’t as farfetched as it may seem.  In fact, convalescent plasma therapy has quite a history. It was first used in the 1890s, and then in the early 20th century, to reduce the severity of a number of  outbreaks of measles, mumps, and influenza. In recent times, it was used in 2009 during the H1N1 influenza pandemic, and then in 2013 for the ebola outbreak in Africa.

With such a track record, convalescent plasma transfusion is now considered an investigational treatment for COVID-19 patients. In India, a trial has been carried out, with 18 out of 20 patients recovering after plasma therapy was administered. The United Kingdom and the United States of America have also held their own studies and clinical trials, with generally favorable results for using convalescent plasma therapy in seriously ill COVID-19 patients. Also, Dr. Michael Ryan, head of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Health Emergencies program, has officially stated that a COVID-19 patient can be given a boost through the antibodies that will be received. This pronouncement comes as no surprise, as the WHO has considered convalescent plasma therapy as a valid and safe treatment for H1NI, SARS, MERS-CoV, and ebola. 

Here, the University of the Philippines – Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH) and the Department of Science and Technology – Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) are working to contribute to the growing body of knowledge regarding COVID-19 convalescent plasma. Their joint research will evaluate the safety and effectivity of the treatment among hospitalized COVID-19 patients.

As a COVID-19 survivor, I have donated my plasma numerous times since recovering from the virus in April.  I first learned about the therapy when one of the doctors who treated me asked if I was interested in donating plasma for another critically ill patient.  I did not hesitate to agree—perhaps out of a sense of gratitude for the utmost care I received while in confinement from our able doctors and nurses. 

While I was recovering and beginning to get back to work, my staff and I noted that there wasn’t any concerted effort to gather COVID-19 survivors interested in donating their convalescent plasma and link them with severely ill patients.  This prompted my office to coordinate with Bacolod-based web developer Talking Myna towards developing a digital solution that would make convalescent plasma donation easier to do. 

This collaboration led to the recent launching of the website, where COVID-19 survivors can privately register their intent to donate. Partner hospitals—which for now includes Philippine General Hospital, Lung Center of the Philippines, and both St. Luke’s Medical Centers in Taguig and Quezon City—will be immediately alerted.  Our team is currently working to expand the network of partners, especially in provinces like Cebu experiencing serious spikes in COVID-19 cases. 

We must use all possible tools at hand—digital or not—to address the pandemic. Hence, those who have survived the ravages of COVID-19 should answer the call to help those who are still suffering from it. One way is to donate their convalescent plasma—hopefully using Short of an actual cure or vaccine, convalescent plasma therapy may just prove to be one of the lifesaving options for our fellow Filipinos.  

Email: [email protected]| Facebook, Twitter & Instagram: @sonnyangara

Senator Sonny Angara has been in public service for 15 years—9 years as Representative of the Lone District of Aurora, and 6 as Senator. He has authored and sponsored more than 200 laws.  He is currently serving his second term in the Senate.